How You Can Get Partners to Change

By August Aquila
February 2019

There are a myriad of reasons why strategic, operational and compensation plans are not implemented. One managing partner told me that he had too many other issues to address, another was waiting for the management team to give it its final blessing and still another just blamed everyone else in the firm rather than looking at himself in a mirror. Another managing partner even told me the firm could not afford to make the changes!

If you are planning to tackle an issue in the firm and make a change, the first thing you need to do is clarify the real problem. Next, describe your overall approach by creating a roadmap. Then you need to gather facts and work together with other partners in the firm. Finally, develop your recommendations and identify the next steps.

There is also one more thing you must do. Ask yourself this: “What will make my partners change?” By change, I mean behaving differently, because we know as a fact that if partners do not change their behaviors, nothing in the firm changes.

Your first step is to understand the driving and restraining forces in your firm. While you may or may not be able to see them, you can surely feel them. Kurt Lewin, who is universally recognized as the founder of modern social psychology, developed force field analysis. Force field analysis is a management tool for analyzing the opposing forces involved in change or in team-building efforts. It can be used at any level – individual, team or firm – to identify the forces that may work against change initiatives.

Lewin viewed organizations as systems in which the present situation was not a static pattern, but a dynamic balance of forces working in opposite directions. In any situation, there are both driving forces that push for change and restraining forces that act against change. For any change to be successful, the driving forces must exceed the restraining forces.

The best way to start using this technique is to visualize the issue on a white board. First, state the current situation. Second, determine the ideal situation or where you would like to be. This will tell you the distance you will have to move. To get people to move, it’s necessary to get them to view the ideal situation as better than the current one. A way to do this is to describe what will happen to the current situation if nothing changes.

Now, start listing all the driving forces – the forces that will carry you to the ideal situation. Sample driving forces may be team competition, bonuses, new initiatives, etc. These are on the left side of the white board.

On the right side of your white board, list all the restraining forces – those that will stop you from achieving your goal. Some examples are apathy, open or hidden hostility, fear, outdated technology, etc.

Not all forces are equal or valid. Determine which ones are the most important and then allocate a score to each force using a scale from 1 to 10 – 1 being extremely weak and 10 being extremely strong.

Once you have both the restraining and driving forces rated, you can determine whether the change you are trying to accomplish is feasible and if movement toward your goal can be achieved. When looking at these forces, you have two options – increase the strength of the driving force or decrease the strength of the restraining force. Beware of the danger that if you increase a driving force too much, you will also increase the corresponding restraining force.

To understand the unique forces in your firm, consider the following types of questions:

  • Why is it that certain niche or practice groups are so ineffective in getting things done in the firm while others are extremely effective and efficient?
  • How do individuals within the groups communicate?
  • How is the group affected by the way it is perceived in the firm?
  • What are the dynamics of inter-group relations?
  • How are leaders trained so they can actually improve the functioning of the group?

As a firm leader, you must understand the nature of both driving and restraining forces and the impact that exerting too much or too many driving forces may have on your desire for change.

Excerpted from What Makes a Great Partnership by August Aquila.

About the Author: August Aquila is an internationally known speaker, consultant and writer. He can be reached at For more information, see




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